By Michael Lind, Tablet
The new global conflict with Russia and China is playing out like a game of 3D chess, with the U.S. up in some areas but losing in others.
Global power politics takes place in multiple dimensions, much like a game of 3D chess. Different players compete on different levels, though some are playing on every board.
Consider the war in Ukraine. This conflict, comparable to the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam during the original Cold War, can be understood as the first proxy war in the current Cold War between the U.S. and post-Soviet Russia. It can be analyzed on three levels: regional, continental, and global.
At the regional level, the war is a struggle between Ukraine, which seeks to maintain its territorial integrity, and the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin, whose initial war aims failed, and who has since been reduced to trying to break off and annex the regions of eastern Ukraine with Russian-speaking majorities while terrorizing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure. Ukraine fits into a larger regional pattern for Putin, who openly laments the dissolution of the USSR, and has long engaged in efforts to dominate buffer states around the borders of the post-Soviet Russian Federation. There was Chechnya (whose independence movement was brutally suppressed), South Ossetia (broken off from Georgia in a brief war in 2008), Crimea (which Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954, and which Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014 and later annexed to Russia), and Ukraine itself, where Russia has been aiding and financing a war in the eastern provinces of the country since 2014. Belarus, another former Soviet republic, remains nominally independent but is closely allied with Russia under its president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Putin seems to have believed that a brief, successful assault on Ukraine would allow him to install a friendly government in Kyiv, while detaching the eastern portions of the country. Instead, the Russian invasion met massive resistance from the Ukrainian government of Volodymyr Zelensky, backed up by military aid from the U.S. and its NATO allies, which also levied harsh economic sanctions on Russia.
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